Beautiful Belcanto: taste sensations, beyond expectations #2michelinstar #lisbon #joseavillez

We went to Belcanto on our first night in Lisbon as a special 50th birthday treat for me, gifted by generous friends.

We had read all the rave reviews and arrived with very high expectations, all of which were well and truly exceeded. I have tried to capture the spirit of the restaurant, the atmosphere and the taste sensations here but it is not easy to do.

We arrived at the low key entrance and were warmly greeted and quickly seated by friendly staff. We instantly felt welcomed and relaxed.

The restaurant itself was a quick 5 minute walk from the apartment we were staying in the Bairro Alto district of Lisbon, an area known for it’s cafes and restaurants.

It is in a beautifully renovated building and reflects an upmarket, elegant but relaxed vibe. The colour scheme is subdued but brought to life with splashes of colour from strategically placed flowers and plants. The tables are set without cutlery with napkins elegantly draped off the tables. The lighting is perfect creating a warm ambience without being dark.

According to a story I read in http://www.wbpstars.com/belcanto.html: “The original Belcanto restaurant was opened in 1958. The name Belcanto derives from the opera style and the famous national opera house in Lisbon is located only a few metres from the restaurant. José Avillez took over the restaurant in 2012 and totally renovated it again in 2016. Today, the interior of restaurant Belcanto is bright, combining lots of wood, green chairs, and luxurious elements.

The Chef Jose Avillez is obviously now world renowned having gained his first Michelin star just 18 months after taking over Belcanto. He trained at El Bulli and according to those who know the Belcanto menu features techniques reminiscent of that famed establishment.

It was great to be able to choose from the a la carte menu, because we knew the tasting menus would be beyond our appetites and budgets! We were so glad we did because even with us just choosing an entree and main each, we were treated to a series of serious amuse bouche (surprises as our charming and playful waiter Joao put it).

We started proceedings with a glass of beautifulPortuguese sparkling wine as we contemplated our menu choices.

We then began our Belcanto experience with the arrival of our first surprise – a small bao style sweet fluffy steamed pastry bun with a delicious salty fish filling reminiscent of the traditional Portuguese sardines paste but worlds away! The tiny bun is served on a plaster cast of the Chef Jose Avillez’s Hand, a symbolic gesture of his offering to his guests. Nice touch.

This was accompanied by an inverted dry martini: the liquid is olive juice and the “olive” is a sphere of gin which just dissolves in your mouth leaving you knowing you have eaten an olive but not quite sure where it went! The combination of ingredients, tastes and sensations of this amuse bouche sets the tone for the rest of the meal and the surprises along the way.

This was followed by a light cherry gazpacho, accompanied by treats in a number of forms including fake cherries filled with a cummin spiced soft cheese, and avocado tempura! My descriptions cannot truly describe the taste sensations or ingredients used. Needless to say it was a delicious combination, as was the divine sardine fillet with tomato flavoured “snow”, smoked eggplant topped with rosemary ash. In our books we were up to course 3, then the bread arrived with 3 types of butter – including rosemary, tomato and normal.

Our palettes and appetites were certainly ready for our menu choices, which included famed “Garden of the goose that laid the golden egg” and European lobster with caviar, marrow, spinach and a white bean purée.

The golden egg actually uses edible gold leaf to encase a slow-cooked egg and is surrounded with crunchy breadcrumbs and mushrooms.

For mains we enjoyed the Suckling Pig with Sarapetel (meat and offal in a vinegary sauce), soufflés potatoes, a fave bean stew with orange peel purée and a peppercorn sauce and Hay-roasted squab (cooked medium rare) with a zuchinni flower filled with foie bras with roasted eggplant and a hazelnut and cinnamon sauce. Each mouthful of our mains delivered flavour, taste and texture of new dimensions. Air filled potato soufflé puffs, squab dissolving with tenderness, crispy pork encasing tender pork, and perfectly spiced sauces accompanying it all.

We had already decided that this was the best meal we had, had in our lives and that every accolade and very Michelin star earned by Belcanto was very well deserved before we even encountered the absolute stand-out of the night – dessert!

Of course, our jovial Head waiter Joao and his band of friends who were looking after us with great service, wine recommendations, jokes and stories (like trying to convince us the squab had been shot by them in the adjoining square) revelled in presenting another surprise in the form of a tantalising palate cleanser of sorbet before presenting the piece de resistance, the renowned Mandarin dessert.

Here’s a description of the making of the Mandarin dessert which explains it much better thanI can: “The dessert with mandarin is exceptional in terms of flavours and experience. It derives from a childhood memory from the chef where children went searching for mandarins that felt from the trees. At Belcanto, the mandarin is a reconstruction filled with mandarin foam, on a custard of mandarin, and accompanied with a sorbet of mandarin. A crumble of mushrooms finishes the dish and refers to the earth where the mandarins were found. In his kitchen José Avillez is assisted by his right hand Head Chef David Jesus and a driven, international team. The staff works dedicated and in utmost concentration in the kitchen. The fine wines at Belcanto are superb and the perfect accompaniment of the dishes coming out of the kitchen.” And a link to their story on Belcanto http://www.wbpstars.com/belcanto.html

It was a divine end to an absolutely stunning dinner…. a series of dining moments that seem to transcend each other as the dinner progresses. What made it truly special was the fun, playful but utterly professional service which ensures a truly enjoyable evening without the expected stuffiness or snobiness of a restaurant of this world class calibre. Also, all the generous surprises along the way gave us an insight into the gastronomical techniques that one would normally expect only from a degustation menu.

It will be a night we will remember for the rest of our lives and for this the cost was well worth it for a special occasion as it was.

Here’s a link to an article on Jose Avillez and Belcanto https://www.foodandwinegazette.com/8728 which you might enjoy as well.

If you are heading to Lisbon, then go to http://www.Belcanto.pt now and book in for a truly memorable evening.

Tredwells – British food at its best #coventgarden #pretheatre

We chose Tredwells for a two course pre-theatre dinner before heading to the Garrick Theatre to see John Malkovich live in stage in the new play Bitter Wheat.

Perfectly situated in the heart of Covent Garden it is a Marcus Wareing restaurant and winner of AA’s London Restaurant of the Year the £25 pre-theatre dinner is great value for the standard of the food on offer.

According to their website: “Tredwells showcases the very best in British seasonal produce developed by Chef Patron, Chantelle Nicholson.”

And certainly we enjoyed the interesting take and presentation on classics such as brandade with fresh broadbeans and smoked peas with foam, pork croquette with cauliflower Picadilly, and grilled lamb chops with beetroot and tahini. The broccoli on the side with almonds and capers was also delicious!

Here’s a link to their website:

https://www.tredwells.com/#theatre-menu

Chilli Fagara #Hongkong #Hotspot

Chilli Fagar has probably seen better days in terms of past years when it was getting Michelin star ratings, now “only” Bib Gourmand recommendation but if you are looking for very good Szechuan cooking in Hong Kong then this is definitely a good value option.

The menu offers a range of spiciness ranging from tangy to numbing, so order with care.

The couple next to us were eating a noodle soup with fish, swimming in red chillies and a devilish looking broth.

We opted for our version of safety, ordering the dumplings in what is described as a “challenging” chilli sauce, prawns with dried chilli, the sweet and salty carmelised beef with peppers, and the sizzling eggplant.

All the dishes were delicious – spicy but not so hot to dull the individual flavours of the fresh ingredients.

The dumplings were set off by the chilli paste sauce….not too hot but with a bit of a kick. The prawns were huge and juicy, with a Szechuan salt and pepper flavour imbued by some of the heat of the decorative dried chillies they are surrounded by. The eggplant was deliciously sizzling with strands of a woody mushroom/fungus and finely cut bamboo shoots for crunch. The beef was sweet and salty and brought a nice touch of calm. We were very happy with our choices and enjoyed the crisp Italian Pinot Grigia with the meal.

If you are in the mood for a spicy, authentic Szechuan meal and don’t mind a bit of authentic old school service and a slightly fraying restaurant environment, then go here for the food, if not the rest!

Chilli Fegara, 7 Old Bailey Rd, Central, Hong Kong

The Old Man #1 #asias50bestbars #hongkong

You have to know what you are looking for to find the entrance to The Old Man cocktail bar in Aberdeen St, Central, Hong Kong. The door is down some steep steps in a grungy looking alleyway and barely has a door handle…! Your perseverance will be repaid in spades though when you step inside this warm and inviting “den” inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s passion for booze!

The decore is hip with fabulous lighting a giant tiled mural portrait of Ernest himself, flanked by pained walls depicting a tropical jungle setting. The bar is the focus of attention and action, with talented bartenders shaking, stirring, slicing and juicing away to create fabulous and innovative concoctions that will play to all your senses of taste, sight and smell. The cool vibes of the music and the chatter of happy guests ensure the sounds play along to create a super cool atmosphere.

There’s even a refrigerated stainless steel strip the length of the table that keeps your drinks cool, ensuring the ice doesn’t melt and water down your cocktails! Ingenious!

We tried four of the Best of The Old Man during our visit (between 2 of us!)and each cocktail delivered unique flavours and tastes heightened by intriguing ingredients and techniques such oyster leaf (tastes just like oysters) and burning rice paper to create the smoky taste from its ashes.

Weird but wonderful, The Old Man definitely delivers on its promise and is a great experience …not to be missed if you are in Hong Kong. Get there early to grab a spot at the bar and watch all the action up close.

Tim Ho Wan #michelin #dimsum #hongkong

After reading much about Tim Ho Wan’s baked bbq pork buns and homemade dim sum, we were on a mission this morning to find the original store in Hong Kong of what is now a very popular chain of restaurants.

True to the reviews the pan fried and baked bbq pork buns are absolutely delicious, with tasty pork filling encased with a light, fluffy and slightly crispy pastry. Very different to the palate binding texture of traditional pork buns.

We also tried their congee with preserved egg, steamed chive and shrimp dumplings, steamed beef brisket with turnip and steamed pork spare ribs with black bean. It was all very tasty and well executed.

The restaurant itself is unassuming and was packed with locals enjoying Saturday morning brunch/breakfast.

Definitely worth the short trip from Tsim Sha Tsui up to Olympian City 2 in Tai Kwok Tsui, West Kowloon.